President's Column - Summer 2018

TBT was a hotbed of activity in June, so the summer months of July and August should bring us some respite and time for reflection.

Every weekend in June brought excitement – from the Broadway and Burgers dinner and entertainment extravaganza, to the Board Installation Shabbat, to the blockbuster farewell Shabbat for Cantor Margolius. Yes, about 200 congregants filled our synagogue to honor our Cantor before his departure for New Orleans – and the tributes and unique gifts were heartwarming. I have to thank Sandy Whelan (chair), Jodie Ambrosino, and Judy Merriam for serving on the committee that, in conjunction with the Rabbi, organized the night. And special thanks to Rob Jacoby for the Cantor’s portrait on behalf of the Torah Study participants, and to John Lesage, the master craftsman who designed and created by hand the magnificent wooden music stand that Cantor Margolius will take with him as a reminder of our musical experiences together these past five years.

The next two months will bring a slower pace. Remember: every July and August service on Friday nights starts at 6:00 p.m. Those held at TBT will have a pre-service oneg (“pre-neg”) at 6:00 followed by a relatively short service. Then there are the two beach Shabbat services at Madison’s East Wharf Beach, on July 13 and August 3 at 6:00, followed by a short walk to a congregant’s house for the oneg. Last year’s beach Shabbats were memorable, so bring your folding chair and join us! Bonus treat: hearing Cantor Mark Stanton’s beautiful voice – which many of you heard at Cantor Margolius’s farewell Shabbat – at every summer service starting with Friday, July 6.

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - Summer 2018

In the midst of these summer months of July and August, many of us are anticipating, planning or engaged in vacations. I am fascinated by the vocabulary we choose to use to describe that time. In America, we call it a ‘vacation,’ but our British friends describe the same experience as ‘going on holiday.’ And of course in Hebrew, we use the word ‘chofesh.’

Each word can help us enter a time in our lives that is most special indeed. The English word ‘vacation’ comes, quite evidently, from the word ‘vacate,’ to leave. An essential part of any vacation is to leave something behind. These days we are not very good at leaving things behind. If we take our cell phones, our iPads and our laptops with us, are we not denying ourselves a critical component of what a vacation is supposed to be? Let go. Leave. Make a shift in your focus. Vacate.

Though we in America tend to use the word ‘holiday’ to refer to a more collective, national or communitarian day off, we would do well to consider the significance of the words chosen by our British friends to describe their vacations. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could elevate the experience of being on vacation to a holy day? What makes a vacation holy? Not merely because we leave something behind, but because we approach the new adventure ahead with careful attention. Let us spend each vacation day in gratitude for the time, the relaxation, and the opportunities for growth that are ours.

The Hebrew word ‘chofesh’ comes from a root word meaning ‘free.’ A vacation is both about freedom ‘from’ and freedom ‘for.’ Our vacations are not simply about leaving, but about arriving.

Planning a vacation? Don’t forget to actually vacate, to honor the moments of each holy day and to pack all that free time up, with life.
Rabbi Offner

President's Column - June 2018

Shalom. June brings us to both endings and beginnings. When one era ends, another always begins. June is the last month of TBT’s fiscal year, and with it we have Board members departing after years of service but also congregants newly joining our Board to help us fulfill our mission statement in all we do. At our Annual Meeting, we recognized the departing Board members and came together to welcome the new ones. If you are interested in service to your synagogue, whether it is on the board or, just as important, on one of our committees; please let me, the Rabbi, our office staff, or another Board member know.

June is also the month when we say farewell to Cantor Kevin Margolius, who in his five years of service to our congregation has been a spiritual and musical leader and friend. He leaves us as a stronger community, and with a solid religious school, ready for the next era. And that era is already starting as we welcome our new cantor-educator, Cantor Mark Stanton, who brings a wealth of experience and talent to the shoreline of Connecticut. It is fitting that on Friday evening, June 15, we will have the opportunity to celebrate all that Cantor Margolius has brought to our community while also saying hello to Cantor Stanton, who will attend that special Shabbat service. Do please come that evening as we transition from one era to the next.

June is also a month of high school graduations, where in our own families we celebrate what our children have accomplished while readying them for the next era of college and adulthood. In May, we had a special Shabbat service recognizing and blessing TBT’s large group of 12th graders (including two from the Babbin family!) as we looked both backwards and forwards. I am pleased how TBT has prepared our children for leading Jewish lives as they depart our homes for the next stages of their lives.

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - June 2018

We are officially in the midst of our transition. We are saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘hello’ at the same time. We say goodbye to Cantor Kevin Margolius who has spent five tremendous years with us. Cantor Margolius has built up so many of the programs that we now hold dear: our Religious School that has a curriculum bursting with learning, our Shabbat band that brings joy to our services, his voice in prayer week-in and week-out, a Bar and Bat Mitzvah training program that has done away with recordings of the portions in favor of the ability to read and even sight-chant trope. The list goes on and on. We are the beneficiaries and we offer our deepest thanks. Please join us for our farewell service on June 15.

At the very same time, we are thrilled to say hello to Cantor Mark Stanton. It has been a non-stop six-month search for just the right cantor at just the right time for TBT. There are big shoes to fill and we are blessed mightily that Cantor Mark Stanton has accepted our invitation to be TBT’s next Cantor-Educator. Cantor Stanton is a graduate of the Hartt School of Music in Hartford. He has been the beloved cantor of Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington, Delaware for the past 14 years. He is beloved because of his skills and his passion and his caring for Jewish life. I am delighted beyond belief to welcome him as my clergy partner and I am sure that you will see why very soon, when he joins us for Cantor Margolius’ Farewell Service on June 15 and becomes our cantor on July 1.

Rabbi Offner

President's Column - May 2018


“Civility.” That’s a word I want to plug in this month’s column. It’s a short column because I am facing a barrage of work-related deadlines in my legal practice. But what makes it all tolerable is civility in my profession and in the workplace. A lawsuit is by definition an intractable dispute among people or businesses, so we have courts that apply the rule of law to maintain civility. Now, sometimes I do face a lawyer for the opposing party (usually from out-of-state!) who thinks that being difficult will give him or her an advantage. That is mistaken. One thing I’ve learned about Connecticut is that most of my Connecticut legal peers, even when our clients are locked in a legal battle, are civil and professional and make Connecticut a wonderful place for the legal profession. Connecticut is, as you all know, a small world, and lawyers who are opposed to me on one case might be working alongside me on another one, or working on a project with me for a legal organization like the bar association.

It is a shame that our political world has lost the civility that had long been a hallmark of legislative and executive life and tradition. Has it improved anyone’s political standing, the ability to get things done, or the lives of the politicians and their constituents? I think not. Now, there were exceptions in history to this civility, like the 1856 caning of Senator Sumner by Rep. Brooks, a dispute that foreshadowed the larger divisions that led to Civil War. Civil discourse has greatly improved since then, but we risk too much by forgetting the benefits of civility.

To help all of us continue to engage in meaningful and respectful exchanges within our communities, TBT is presenting a program entitled “How to Talk to Each Other: Effective Communication about Differences.” If you are reading this in late April, please join us at TBT on Sunday, April 29, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. to hear from two expert TBT members, Nancy Abramson, MSW, and Rosemary Baggish, MPH, about how to talk and discuss issues in a divided, polarized country. You’ll even get to enjoy a light brunch.

I also hope to see you all on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, for our congregation’s Annual Meeting. An update on the building project will be on the agenda, along with the usual information and honors. Come at 7:00 p.m. for dessert and attend the 90-minute program from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m.

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - May 2018

What is Jewish music? Music has been a part of our tradition since Biblical times. We chant from our Torah scroll; we pray in music; we grieve with music; we rejoice with music. Jewish musical styles extend from folk to classical to klezmer to Broadway. What makes it Jewish? Is it the composer? The singer? The religiousness? How about all of the above! We have two extraordinary musical programs coming up at TBT – come be a part of making Jewish history.

Rabbi Offner

Sunday, May 6, 2018 at 1 PM hear internationally renowned singer and teacher Joey Weisenberg at TBT. Program is free and open to the public. Excellent experience for all ages! (Lunch at 12 noon, free to TBT members; nominal charge for others)

Saturday, June 2, 2018 at 6 PM join us for a Kosher BBQ and a special musical program with Cantor Margolius and Jason Gaines who will share the story of the Jews as told through Broadway music.

President's Column - April 2018

It was exciting to see over a hundred of our congregants at our March 11th congregational meeting, to learn about our synagogue renewal project. The Rabbi delivered an inspirational message linking our past to the future, Bruce Topolosky explained the work of the Building Committee and how the needs of our building and community are being examined and documented, and our architect Duo Dickinson sought to help us visualize a building and landscape (and parking!) that will both serve and inspire us.

We also heard about our pending purchase of our adjacent property along Route 79, 206 Durham Road, to give us much greater flexibility for the project and an expansion of our frontage along the main road. Our fundraising consultant Peter Heller introduced himself, as we soon embark on a campaign to strengthen the financial foundation of our community, which will reflect the commitment and investment of our congregants. From this great start, taking into account both your ideas and concerns, our Building Committee will be very active in the coming months to develop schedules and timelines and work with the architect to produce design options to share with the congregation and ultimately to be considered by the Board.

Rest assured that your Board and Clergy are fully committed to the present as well as the future, with all synagogue services, education, lifecycle events, and social activities proceeding without interruption or diminishment (even if temporary space will be planned for as needed). All planning will be done with deliberation and in consultation with the congregation. The results will not disappoint.

Please save the date of Tuesday, May 22, 2018, for our congregation’s Annual Meeting. An update on the building project will be on the agenda, along with the usual information and honors. Due to scheduling issues, we will have an evening meeting instead of our usual Sunday morning gathering. Come at 7:00 p.m. for dessert and attend the 90-minute program from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m.

A shout-out to the efforts of our Social Justice Committee in organizing TBT’s participation in the Guilford gathering of the national March for Our Lives event, held on March 24th.
As you read this, I hope you are enjoying your celebration of Pesach and, just perhaps, the beginnings of some sign of spring in Connecticut!

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - April 2018

We are in the middle of Bar Mitzvah season here at TBT. Thank God, we are blessed with packs of families with 13 year olds. Last week, this week, next week – in fact, we have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah to celebrate every single Shabbat from now right through June.

They are always exhilarating. One of the things I love about them is that you get to see yourself through the eyes of others – family and friends, Jews and non-Jewish people too, who are visiting TBT for the first time. One of the nicest compliments that I receive after the service often goes like this: “Oh Rabbi, your synagogue is amazing. It is so warm and loving and intimate and accessible. If I lived here, I would join here. It is so warm, open, intimate and accessible.” That is why we are here today. We are here to celebrate that we are warm and open and intimate and accessible. And we are here because it is time to make sure that our building and our property and our bricks and mortar all reflect just those Jewish values that we so passionately embrace as a community.

It is time to make our building warmer, more open, more intimate and more accessible. We’ve earned that. We deserve that. And it is our responsibility to ensure that for the generations that come after us. Forty years is a long time. Our building is aging. It has cracks, some literal and some figurative. It is not easy to find from the road. It is not easy to drive up into the parking lot. It is not easy to walk from the parking lot to the building. It is not easy to open the front door. It is not easy to find your way, once inside, to the sanctuary, to the rabbi’s study, to the youth lounge.

Accessibility is a Jewish value. A Jewish imperative. We say: “Hamitzvah hazot lo ba’shamayim hi; hi karov aleycha me’od.” (Deut 30:12-14) “The mitzvah of Jewish practice is not up in the Heavens, we don’t make it hard, we place it close to you.” It is time to make coming to the synagogue easy. Picture an easy entrance right off the road. An easy drive into the parking lot. An Open Door and a Welcoming Entrance.

Hidur Mitzvah is also a Mitzvah. It is a Jewish value to beautify what we treasure. There are so many ways that we can beautify our synagogue. With art. With color. With height. With light. With windows.

The most exquisite piece of this synagogue building is what sits outside of its walls. The exquisite piece of nature that God created. The trees and the leaves and the sky and the sunshine. Let us take advantage of that! It is a requirement that a sanctuary have windows. (Mishnah Berurah) We can have windows that are big and wide and open to the world around us.

Our synagogue should be accessible. Not because the government requires accessibility, but because we are Jews and our tradition demands it. The Book of Psalms says of the aged: “Don’t cast me off as I age.” We are all aging, and without insulting our founders I can tell you for a fact that each and every one of them is precisely 40 years older than they were 40 years ago. Our bathrooms are not handicap accessible. It is a ‘bousha,’ (that’s Hebrew for ‘shonda’). But it need not be that way any longer. We can make our bathrooms handicap accessible. We can make our bima handicap accessible. We can make every square inch of our building easier to navigate and more spiritually uplifting to experience.

Our building is beautiful. Our founders created a space that has served us amazingly well for 40 years. It is time to re-envision. It is time to dream. It is time to build, to build upon that which has already been built, to build upon the shoulders of those who came before us, to build a synagogue that says “HERE WE ARE.” To build a synagogue that says “COME AND JOIN US.” To build a synagogue that is as warm and welcoming and traditional and contemporary and bold and conservative and beautiful and accessible as we are.

Rabbi Abraham Kook, the first rabbi of Palestine, as he contemplated the enterprise of building a state of Israel, famously said: HaYashen Tichadesh v’Ha Chadash Tikadesh. The old shall be renewed, and the new shall be made holy.

The time is now, for building and rebuilding together.

Rabbi Offner
(This column was excerpted from Rabbi Offner’s remarks at the Congregational Meeting on March 11, 2018)

President's Column - March 2018

Shalom. We cannot wait until the Sunday, March 11th congregational meeting to share with you all how our synagogue renewal project is coming along. Come nosh with your fellow congregants at 9:30 a.m. and then learn what the many volunteers on our Building Committee and their supporting cast have been up to when putting their heads, hearts, and talents together in service to our community. Come hear the choices examined and the vision for the future. A must-see will be the large-scale model and the aerial drone footage of our property presented by our architect Duo Dickinson. It will be an engaging and informative morning, to wake you up after losing an hour’s sleep from going on daylight savings time.

March also brings us the Passover Seder – yes, in March, not April! Never too early to plan to spend your Second Seder with your fellow TBT congregants at our communal Seder on Saturday evening, March 31.

While we can take delight from our synagogue community, we also cannot ignore the sad news around us. Our synagogue and nursery school mourn our nursery school graduate Ethan Song, the Guilford High School freshman who passed away in tragic circumstances in recent weeks. Then we had the national news of the events in Parkland, Florida. We certainly need a new national conversation about guns and public safety. I hope that as many people as possible take this opportunity to engage in the civic advocacy and public discourse necessary to move our nation to a sounder and safer footing.

- Jeff

Rabbi's Column - March 2018

From the Maxwell House Haggadah to the “10-Minute Seder,” there are more editions and publications of haggadot for Passover than there are prayerbooks for any other Jewish holiday…by far.

Why are there so many types and varieties of Haggadot? Which haggadah will you be using around your seder table? Will you buy a haggadah, find one on the internet, create your own – even use a PowerPoint haggadah instead of a hard copy?

There are literally thousands of Haggadot to choose from because Passover is a holiday that speaks to the quintessential creation story of our people. It is the story of a journey – from slavery to freedom, from degradation to respect, from despair to exhilaration, from darkness to light.

This theme which is at the center of Jewish life speaks to all human beings who yearn to be free. That is why Passover has been the holiday that has generated a Freedom Seder, a Civil Rights Seder, a Women’s Seder and an Immigration Seder. On Passover we sit around our seder tables and take the journey ourselves, recalling our enslavements and tasting of a world where all humanity are free.

Interestingly enough, the Maxwell House Haggadah reveals a classic American story. It was first printed in 1931 when Jewish immigrants to the United States were yearning for recognition and affirmation of their American standing. That Maxwell House wanted to market to the Jewish community was a sign of having ‘made it’ in America. As a part of an ad campaign for their coffee, Maxwell House offered their Haggadah free with the purchase of coffee. The campaign also helped dissuade some in the Jewish community of the mistaken understanding that coffee (because it is a ‘bean’), is not kosher for Passover. The coffee bean is a berry; not a legume. Talk about success stories – there are now over 50 million copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah in print!

There are many other free Haggadot worthy of exploration. Just go to to make your own step-by-step Haggadah. There are also some beautiful haggadot for purchase. “A Passover Haggadah,” with illustrations by Leonard Baskin, is a personal favorite. So too the “Gates of Freedom” Haggadah, edited by Rabbi Chaim Stern.

You can find a Haggadah for scholars and one for kids and another for seekers. The most important point is that there is a Haggadah for you. As Passover approaches, exploring the many possibilities for how to tell the story is as important as the telling of the story. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are hungry for the telling and the retelling of our sacred story, reflect upon the many choices of Haggadot that are before us. May we choose wisely as we prepare for the sacred task of reliving our people’s journey from slavery to freedom.

Rabbi Offner